This ain’t my first rodeo, Wisconsin.
I’ve written about the importance of flu shots here before. For years now, I’ve been one voice among a great many doctors, agencies, health plans, teachers and countless others preaching the merits of flu shots in any forum I get. Why? According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, thousands of Wisconsinites are hospitalized due to flu each year, hundreds die, and hundreds of thousands spend countless days in misery because of my old nemesis, the flu. So it’s almost beyond belief that DHS tells me that only 36 percent of Wisconsinites got flu shots last year.
So this year, I’m bringing in the big guns. I sat down with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s new medical director, Dr. Julie Mitchell, to ask a few questions. Some of her answers may surprise you (as they did me).
I got a flu shot last year, do I really need one again?
Dr. Mitchell: You absolutely do. For one thing, the flu virus evolves – so it’s a little different from year to year. Researchers adjust the vaccine each year to match it to the most prevalent flu strains. Secondly, the flu vaccine has a cumulative effect. Most people don’t know this, but the more seasons you get the flu shot, the more immune you are to the next big flu outbreak.
But the vaccine doesn’t always match each year’s flu strain, so what’s the point?
Dr. Mitchell: Changes in the flu virus are not easily predictable and the vaccine isn’t always a perfect match to that year’s strains. But even if it’s not an exact match, the flu vaccine will help protect you this year and in future years. Even if it’s not perfect that year, it’s still good.
I’m young and healthy, why should I get a flu shot?
Dr. Mitchell: The flu vaccine has a ‘herd mentality,’ meaning that the more people in any given group that get it, the less likely people in that group are to get sick. For example, the more people at your workplace get the flu shot, the less likely each person that works there is to get sick – even those that didn’t get the shot. So, you getting a flu shot helps protect your coworkers, your kids, your parents and anyone else you’re close to.
I got a flu shot last year and I still got sick. What’s with that?
Dr. Mitchell: While the vaccine can prevent the flu altogether, its real power is in reducing the severity of symptoms if you do get sick. In addition to getting you off the couch and feeling better faster, the flu shot can truly be the difference between life and death.
Isn’t the flu shot itself dangerous?
Dr. Mitchell: NO. The flu vaccine is one of the safest, most effective and least expensive public health weapons the medical community can offer. Like every medicine from aspirin to Zantac, there are some rare cases in which some people shouldn’t get the vaccine. Before you get your shot, listen to the clinician and read the paperwork to be sure it’s safe for you (in fact, do this before taking any new medicine).
What are five things I can do (in addition to the flu shot) to keep from getting sick this season?
- Hands, soap, warm water: get together more often. Wash for at least 20 seconds and use alcohol-based sanitizer when you can’t.
- Vampire cough or sneeze. Cover your mouth with the crook of your arm or upper sleeve, NOT your hands.
- Eat healthy, get good sleep, and generally take care of yourself.
- Don’t share drinking cups or straws.
- Frequently clean often-touched surfaces like countertops, doorknobs and fridge handles, at home and at work.
Does the flu shot hurt?
Dr. Mitchell: As shots go, it’s really not bad and it’s definitely better than having the flu. Paul, if you’re brave, I’ll give you a Captain America bandage after your shot to make it all better.
I have to say, Captain America did help.